Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pulpit Primer 101

I am reading the current edition of UU World, the Unitarian Universalist magazine that comes to my mailbox each season. I love that magazine almost as much as I love Mother Earth News.

The Reflections article titled “Serving Dionysus” is ringing a bell with me. The writer, Victoria Weinstein is a Christian who is also an actress and as such has an affinity for Dionysus. “The ‘secrets’ of good liturgy are held mostly by the clergy, who rarely openly discuss with the laity how important technique and craft are to the successful ‘performance’ of it. To refer to worship as a ‘performance’ is to cheapen and defile its sanctity.” Weinstein goes on to say that it really is a performance and preparation is necessary. She compares dedication to God with dedication to the theater. (To read the article, follow this link: )

I loved the article. Although I was never on stage in the theater, I have been a stagehand and costume designer in the long-lost days of my youth. However, when I am doing a sermon or acting as worship associate, I do feel like I am giving a performance.

I was kind of saddened by her assertion that clergy tend to keep secrets about how to pull off a successful worship service. I feel lucky in that sense that our minister is an actor who loves to share his secrets with the rest of us ordinary folks. When he trains new worship associates (and refreshes those of us who are stale old hands), he has us work and “perform” our sample welcomes and offertories. He gives tips and solicits input from those of us who are or appear at ease in the pulpit. And, above all, he askso us how it feels to be speaking our truth to one another, on the spot while we scrutinize and critique ourselves and one another lovingly.

I have been told that I exude “ministerial presence”, whatever that means. I think maybe that is one of the “’secrets’ of good liturgy” that Weinstein mentions. I’m not sure where I got it, but for those who are looking for it in themselves-here are some ideas:

1. Believe in what you say.
2. Take your nervous energy and channel it into enthusiasm for your subject.
3. Preach to the choir-remember that most people will not be rude to you in public.
4. Don’t pretend you didn’t mess up when you did. Everyone messes up, it’s part of this amazing experience of being a human being among humans.
5. Have Fun! Make a fool of yourself on purpose sometimes.
6. Remember-even Obama uses a teleprompter. Feel free to memorize your stuff if you can and want to, but don’t feel embarrassed to use notes, or even a whole script. (I usually type mine in such a way to remind me to emphasize certain areas, or use a highlighter to give myself “performance cues” on how to deliver which parts.
7. Stay flexible. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and being flexible allows you to keep the attitude that “the show must go on”
8. If something moves you, give the congregation the opportunity to be moved by it as well.
9. Make eye contact with as many people as you can. Someone may need your vision. You may need someone’s nod.
10. Talk as if you are having a conversation. Use pauses, volume fluctuations, tempo and vocabulary as if you were telling a good story to a friend. Be melodramatic.
11. Get comfortable with silence. Don’t add noise words like “ah”, “um”, etc. When you are pausing to think, let people know you are thinking with your pause, not floundering in your discomfort of silence.
12. Don’t apologize for things that don’t warrant it. For example: when I first started doing sermons in a largely humanist church, I found myself apologizing for talking about God and spirit. When I listened to the tape, I realized that I need to make no such apologies in a church where all faiths are welcome.
13. Be yourself. You have gifts, words and wisdom that others need and crave.

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